Garmin Fenix 5X Plus Review
The Garmin Fenix 5X Plus is one of the most feature-packed sports wearables on the market. The newer 6X model has larger screen as well as several other improvements, but if you’re in the market for a sports watch and find a good deal on the 5X Plus, it should certainly be in your shortlist.
- Comprehensive sports tracking features
- Useful navigation feature including topo maps
- Premium materials and very durable build
- Great battery life
- Smartwatch features such as smart notifications, onboard music and Garmin Pay
- It’s big! If you have very small wrists it might not be the best option
- Heavier than smaller watches. The weight can be felt on long runs
- The design can be polarizing
User Review( votes)
Although the Garmin Fenix 5/5X Plus series has now been supplanted by the latest generation of flagship wearables from Garmin, Fenix 6 series, the Fenix 5X Plus model still holds its own in terms of features and build quality even when stacked against the latest crop of sports wearables in 2021.
I’ve been using the Garmin Fenix 5X plus extensively as my main sports watch since it was released in summer 2018, and the following paragraphs offer my take on this feature-packed sports watch.
The Fenix 5X Plus was an indeterminate model released between the 5X and the 6X generations. The “Plus” model designation, differentiating it from its older sibling, simply meant that it offered several design and feature updates over the 5x.
Most notably, the 5X Plus introduced smart features such as Garmin Pay, on-board music support as well as improvements in battery life and the pulse oximetry (which measures blood oxygen saturation).
The version I went with was the top-of-the-line Fenix 5X Plus Titanium DLC with the Titanium bracelet. There is a not insignificant price gap between this model and the “base model” 5X Plus, but I had two good reason to justify the choice: The first reason is that I wear these watches 24/7, and even though I try to be careful with my electronic gear, they get put to the use they’re intended for, which means that they do get knocked and banged against various objects as I move about my day.
The DLC (Diamond-like Carbon) coating is incredibly durable. In three years of hard use you’d have to look really closely to find a visible scratch on the bezel (the glass itself is sapphire, which does not scratch). This is certainly great in terms of not only keeping the watch looking good, but also retaining a good resale value for the device when the time comes to upgrade.
The second reason is that this version of the 5X Plus comes with a really nice titanium bracelet that looks really smart. As I mentioned, I wear my watch almost all day, every day, and this bracelet gives the 5X Plus a look that doesn’t scream “sports watch!” and makes it possible to pair the watch with casual or more formal clothing. The titanium version is also lighter than the base model. The weight difference is marginal, yet appreciable on long runs.
Looks are subjective, so I will try not to express any strong opinions here except to admit that I do like Garmin’s rather industrial, rugged look with the matte metal bezel, five torx screws and large buttons. Display resolution is 240×240 and it is not a touch screen (hence the many buttons).
On the backside of the case you will find the optical heart rate sensors and a new red LED responsible for pulse oximetery measurement. More on that feature shortly.
There is no doubt that the 5X Plus is a pretty big watch. It is the largest in Garmin’s range of sports wearables. If you don’t have big wrists, you might want to also consider smaller options in the same range, the Fenix 5 and 5S Plus.
Two main things: Music and Garmin Pay. The former I’ve used extensively with Spotify-integration and, while cumbersome, I love it because I can leave my phone at home and just go for a run with the watch and a pair of ear buds.
The latter I have not used and cannot comment on it because my bank does not offer it (but judging by reports from other reviewers, it works fairly well).
Smart notifications work exceptionally well (although they can be overwhelming because the watch will by default report all notifications from your paired phone, so choose your notifications wisely), and I love the preset “quick replies” which can be used to reply to text messages on the go.
Sports Tracking Features
One thing about Garmin is that they love to cram as many features in their devices as possible. This is simultaneously good and bad. On one hand, Garmin wearables are the most feature-rich products in this market, on the other it often makes for buggier devices.
In the case of the 5X Plus, I can say that having used many sports wearables in the past (from Garmin and other brands) this has been by far one of the few which managed to offer a nearly complete package while not being super buggy in terms of software and hardware.
The sports tracking features Garmin offers are incredibly comprehensive. All the popular ones are there (running, cycling, hiking, etc.), but it goes beyond to nearly everything from indoor rowing to golfing and even an activity for boating.
On the off-chance you don’t find the activity you need, Garmin offers you the ability to create a custom one.
Aside from the sports-specific tracking features, it is worth pointing out that the Fenix is a great all-day fitness tracker, tracking things like steps, floors climbed, calories burned and all-day heart rate tracking using the optical heart rate (OHR) sensor.
Speaking of which, I found that the OHR sensor in the 5X Plus to be much more accurate than previous Fenix generations, but for reliable HR-based training metrics, optical heart rate is still not as accurate as a dedicated chest HR strap.
The feature not found on the smaller siblings in the 5 Plus series is the Pulse OX sensor. It can be very useful to measure oxygen saturation in your blood especially if you are a mountain sports enthusiast/athlete, so this is a feature with good potential.
However, in my experience this feature is still in its early stages and needs further development to be truly useful. Unless you stand super still, Pulse OX readings on the 5X Plus were generally not accurate and when used often, battery life took a hit.
GPS & Navigation
The Fenix 5x Plus comes bundled with worldwide digital elevation model (DEM) base map, as well as the ability to display topographical maps which provide incredibly useful detail for navigation in the wilderness, including contour lines.
GPS mode can be set to GPS only, GLONASS and Galileo. The best choice will depend on where you are in the world and which satellites offer coverage in the skies above you.
I found GPS+GLONASS to be the most reliable in terms of tracking accuracy in most places I’ve use the watch in, including activities that took place in big cities or areas with dense tree cover, which can be detrimental to GPS tracking accuracy.
Now, many can scoff at the idea of mapping features being actually useful on a watch with such a small screen (compared to handheld GPS devices or even phones), but I experienced the true value of having maps on my wrist on several occasions, including a an epic mountain bike ride in which my main navigation device’s battery died and the 5X Plus took over navigation duties to get me to the nearest known point, and a trail running race on a hilly course that wasn’t very well marked.
The comfort of having a topographical map on your wrist which you can use for instant way finding elevates these features beyond the realm of digital gimmicks to indispensable tools for outdoor sports enthusiasts.
If you have routable maps loaded on the watch, the 5X Plus also has the ability to build a course right on the device by choosing a direction or point-of-interest.
The famous idiom “everything but the kitchen sink” applies to the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus. It is one of the most feature-packed sports wearables on the market and even though it is three years old now it is far from outdated and still competes with some of the latest sports watches.
The newer 6X model has larger screen as well as several other improvements, but if you’re in the market for a sports watch and find a good deal on the 5X Plus, it should certainly be in your shortlist.
Hani Morsi is a seasoned multi-discipline cyclist with a particular liking for mountain and gravel bikes. Hani is also a mountain bike coach, trail builder and experienced bike mechanic.